As many a pop story will tell, most bands tire of themselves eventually, leading either to split or reinvention. Four albums in, Puzzles Like You sees Mojave 3 picking the latter route, and with it twelve years of widescreen alt-country elegy is replaced by a snappy Byrdsian jangle.
Unfortunately most of this new "fun" direction feels a touch dishonest. While the title track is a golden piece of songwriting, Neil Halstead's tired, breathy voice still belongs to the beautifully mournful Mojave 3 of old, and hearing it over relentlessly happy chimes is akin to a long-term depressive insisting that he's fine really.
The initial persistence of cheer extends only to the opening four tracks, and it's only when they revert to previous form for Most Days and Big Star Baby, that Halstead really reminds us how great a songwriter he is. This pair do not simply stand out due to familiarity though: they are simply better-crafted songs, infinitely more tender, subtle and memorable than those which surround it.
There then follows a slew of songs which are competent but little more. Kill The Lights is let down by Halstead's newly unmasked mockney singing voice, whilst To Hold Your Tiny Toes and Just A Boy simply sound ungainly, like a middle-aged man on a Harley-Davidson, trying new tricks which old dogs can't quite master.
Mojave 3's new songwriting tack does not contain the same coming-of-age confidence seen in Belle & Sebastian's recent transformation, but neither is it convincing as a complete change of direction. Instead it sounds like a band who are simply a little bored. They say that the worst thing you can ask to a long-term depressive is whether they're alright. However, "alright" is just about all Puzzles Like You amounts to.